Sunday’s sermon: A Persistent Hydration Station

living water

Texts used – Exodus 15:22-27 and John 4:4-15, 25-26, 39-42

  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • In 2005, I had a brilliant idea. I was sitting at my parents’ house over Christmas break. It was my senior year of college. My brand new husband of 6 months was spending Christmas in the Kuwaiti desert courtesy of the Wisconsin National Guard and wouldn’t be home for another 10 or 11 months. I knew that after graduating from college in the spring, I would be taking a year off before starting seminary while I waited for that husband to come home. Bottom line: I needed something to do! And then I saw this commercial: “60 miles. 3 days. A walk to end breast cancer.” And I thought, “Why not?”
    • Somehow convinced by mom to embark on this crazy journey with me
    • 11 yrs. later (last summer) – inspired to do it again and somehow convinced Jenny Rand to do it, too
      • [ADVERTISEMENT: Jenny liked walking 60 miles so much that she’s doing it again this summer – so be on the lookout for ways to support her and help her reach her $2500 goal!]
    • After having been through it twice, Susan G. Komen 3-Day = actually pretty similar to a boot camp experience
      • Challenging
      • Strenuous
      • Intense
      • Now, we’ve been talking about boot camp experiences during Lent this year – the challenge, the strenuousness, the intensity. And we’ve tied that into the self-examination and soul-work that we do as individuals and as a community during the season of Lent. Challenging. Strenuous. Intense.
    • One of the most crucial elements of an experience like the 3-Day and like boot camp = WATER
      • 3-Day: strongly encouraged to carry some form of hydration with you at all times (either water or Gatorade) → big hydration stations at each rest stop (every 3 miles or so)
      • Water = critical need for our bodies
        • Bodies = 60% water
        • Drinking enough water affects all aspects of our health
          • Joint health
          • Weight control
          • Skin health/elasticity
          • Flushes toxins out
          • Boosts immune system
          • Increases energy/relieves fatigue
          • There is not a single system in our entire bodies that is not positively affected by drinking water.
        • Need becomes even more crucial in the face of strenuous activity – things that make us sweat … Things like boot camp and experiences like the 3-Day. Those hydration stations were more than just a fun idea. They were essential to the health and success of our endeavor.
      • Today’s Scripture readings – all about water → hydration stations for the soul, necessary for the health and success of our journeys of faith
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • The Israelites had only been out of Egypt for a short time. They had been so excited when Moses came to them and told them that the Most Holy God had sent him to lead them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to a land of freedom – a land that God was giving them. A land like that which God had promised to their ancestor Abraham – one flowing with milk and honey and all good things. That was what they had been longing for, dreaming for, desperate for for so long … and the time had finally come. Through the slave masters’ punishments, through the plagues, through the waters of the Red Sea, they had stuck with Moses. And now, they were expecting results. … But instead, they got desert. They got wilderness. Step … And they started to worry. Step … And they started to fear. Step … And they started to doubt.
    • Text: Then Moses had Israel leave the Red Sea and go out into the Shur desert. They traveled for three days in the desert and found no water. When they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink Marah’s water because it was bitter. That’s why it was called Marah. The people complained against Moses, “What will we drink?”[1]
      • “What will we drink?” = question motivated by fear and doubt
      • “What will we drink?” = question motivated by desperation and an attitude of scarcity
      • In that moment, the Israelites’ belief lay not in their God but in their deficiency. They trusted not in God’s abundance but in their own anxiety. Their thirst extended deeper than their physical bodies. They were thirsty in spirit. They were thirsty in heart.
        • Found themselves in a parched landscape
        • Found themselves full of parched landscapes deep within
        • And yet, even in those parched and doubt-filled, fear-filled, anxiety-filled places, God provided.
          • Moses cried out to God
          • God pointed a particular tree out to Moses
          • Moses threw the tree in the water
          • Water became sweet and potable
          • Further provision – text: The Lord said, “If you are careful to obey the Lord your God, do what God thinks is right, pay attention to his commandments, and keep all of his regulations, then I won’t bring on you any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord who heals you.” Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. They camped there by the water.[2] → In the face of utter scarcity, God’s plenty was literally overflowing.
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • Those parched places inside of us can be just as frightening and disconcerting as a vast, empty wilderness. Sometimes those weary, arduous miles come in minutes and days and weeks, not in distance. And sometimes the water that we need is more for our spirits than our bodies. Such is the story of the woman Jesus found at the well.
    • So much in this encounter, we could spend all of Lent talking about just this story
    • Today = focus on the woman, Jesus, and the living water
    • Woman = often described as “a woman of the city”
      • Woman of questionable background
      • Woman of dubious reputation
      • Down throughout history, she has been put down and called out based solely on a tiny bit of information that Jesus revealed about her – during part of the story that we didn’t read today: Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.” The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.” “You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”[3]
        • Makes me think of a country song from the early 90s: “Alibis and lying eyes and all the best lines / Lord knows she’s heard them all / She’s been cheated on and pushed around and left alone”[4]
        • This is why the woman is at the well in the middle of the day – the hottest, most sun-baked, least popular time of the day. In this part of the country, no doubt the rest of the women of the village had done the challenging, strenuous, intense work of going to the well and drawing up the water they needed early in the day – when the air was still cool and the sand had not yet reached blistering. But this woman, this woman whom Jesus encountered, waited until the middle of the day when it was hotter than hot … because only at this insufferable time could she be alone at the well.
          • Away from the prying eyes
          • Away from the judgmental stares
          • Away from the whispers and veiled comments
      • In truth, we know almost nothing about this woman’s life, but by her timing and her actions, we do know that she had been ostracized to the point of venturing out in the boiling heat of midday to draw water from the well. She was so parched in heart and soul that she had purposefully isolated herself.
    • Makes Jesus’ encounter with her all the more disturbing → She was looking to avoid anyone and everyone, and instead she came face-to-face with a man … a Jewish man … alone at the well … who had the audacity and the gall to ask her for water.
      • Persistent Jesus
      • Pesky Jesus
      • Jesus that just won’t leave well enough alone
      • As a single Jewish man, he had no business talking to a single Samaritan woman, let alone asking her for a drink of water.
        • Hear it in the woman’s response – text: Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”[5]
          • Read skepticism
          • Read irritation
          • Read disbelief
          • “Really, man? Really? You’ve got no bucket, and this well is deep. Where do you think this ‘living water’ is going to come from? Who do you think you are? This is Jacob’s well. It was good enough for him. It was good enough for his sons and his livestock. It’s been good enough for our ancestors. You think you’re better than all that?”
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • This woman at the well was parched, parched, parched. She had been mistreated. She had been marginalized by her people. She had been isolated. … But even in the face of all her desolation, all her insecurities, all her fears and doubts and every wall she tried to put up, Jesus persisted. Jesus knew she needed more than just plain old well water. She needed living water – something to quench her parched spirit and renew her weary soul.
    • Text: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water! … I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I AM – the one who speaks with you.”[6]
      • Jesus brings reassurance to wash away all her uncertainty
      • Jesus brings affirmation to wash away all her self-doubt
      • Jesus bring hope to wash away all her pain and grief
      • And she was so moved by her interaction with Jesus that she ran back to the village – to the people from whom she had so carefully and deliberately isolated herself – and she told them not only about this man but about herself. – text: Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” → This is where we see her parched places overflowing with living water! Before her encounter with Jesus, do you really think she would have said anything to her neighbors, let alone anything pertaining to whatever past they may have assumed she had?! Of course not! The woman was venturing out in the scorching heat of midday for water just to avoid all the gossip and comments and stares and cold shoulders! And yet, after her encounter with Jesus, she went directly to those same people whom she had so painstakingly tried to avoid and admitted to them, “He told me everything I’ve ever done” … and all that that statement implies. Think about what that would mean for you for a minute: “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” Mmm hmmm. The part of that that we don’t hear her say: “He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still talked to me. He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still accepted me. He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still loved me.” A spring of water … a spring of hope … a spring of everlasting love bubbling up into eternal life.
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water. Whatever miles you’ve traveled … however parched you may be … whatever doubts and despair linger within … leave your bucket and come to the well, because Jesus is waiting. “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I Am – the one who speaks with you.” Amen.

[1] Ex 15:22-24.

[2] Ex 15:26-27.

[3] Jn 4:16-18

[4] “Alibis” by Tracy Lawrence from Alibis album, 1993.

[5] Jn 4:10-12.

[6] Jn 4:13-15, 25-26.

Sunday’s sermon: Stepping Up in a Big Way

stepping up

Texts used – Psalm 130 and Hebrews 10:19-25

  • Started talking last week about Lent being a boot camp for our souls
    • Time of testing and brutal honesty – can’t hide anything in a boot camp situation (military boot camp, fitness boot camp, corporate boot camp, or otherwise)
    • Time of intense and intentional work – enter boot camp experience looking to be changed and change takes work → Boot camp experiences may be a lot of things but they are NOT passive!
      • Intense work on and within ourselves
      • Intense work on our relationship with other people
      • Intense work on our relationship with God
    • We also talked about how challenging that can be. It can be scary. It can be daunting. It can be intimidating. There’s no doubt that any boot camp experience – whether we’re talking about military boot camp, fitness boot camp, or some other boot camp context – requires those going through it to step up … to set aside all their fears, worries, and intimidations and just go all-in. And faith is no different. God has claimed us. Now it’s our turn to respond – to go all-in, to step up in a big way, to invest in this faith this with all that we have and all that we are.
  • One of the ways we can respond in faith is to put our absolute trust in God because no matter what – whether we’re feeling isolated or overwhelmed, boxed in or stretched too thin, under-appreciated or inexperienced – God remains our hope. → both passages for today talk about having hope in the Lord
    • Ps – we find hope in the Scriptures: I hope, LORD. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.[1]
      • “I wait for God’s promise.” I bet that if I polled everyone sitting here this morning, you could probably tell me about a passage – some portion of God’s promise in Scripture – that makes your whole being hope in tough times.
        • Psalm 23 – Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.[2]
        • John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
        • James – My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.[3]
        • Jesus in the Gospels – Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.[4]
        • Maybe one of these is the Scripture you use as a source of strength and hope. Or maybe you look to a different passage. The point is that our hope is alive in the Word and promises of God, and it’s just waiting for us to encounter it, waiting for us to be open to its light.
    • Our passage from Hebrews touches on another place we find hope, and that is in God’s forgiveness. – text: Let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.[5]
      • “Our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.” There’s no mincing of words here. Clean and pure … we have been made clean and pure by the forgiveness provided through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Our sins – no matter how big or dark they are – have been obliterated by God’s forgiveness. And before even knowing what those sins would be, Jesus stepped up and took our punishment on himself.
        • We are able to find our hope in God’s forgiveness because of Christ. – Heb. text: We have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body … Therefore, let’s draw near.[6]
        • Scholar: No place or circumstance is beyond the reach of God’s forgiving, loving, redeeming presence and power.[7]
    • Also see forgiveness in Ps: I cry out to you from the depths, LORD— … If you kept track of sins, LORD— my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored.[8]
      • If you kept track of my sins, Lord, who would stand a chance? If you, O Lord, were tallying up my every stumble, my every mistake, my every sin, Lord, who would stand a chance? This part is actually kind of opposite of what often ends up happening in a boot camp scenario.
        • Boot camps: tendency to draw attention to mistakes as an extreme way to correct them → part of that whole break-you-down-to-build-you-up-better mentality
        • And when we’re being honest with ourselves, God has every right to do that … to point out all of our missteps – all of the ways that we have turned away, fallen away, been led away. But that’s not the way it works with God. The psalmist says, “IF you kept track of my sins, Lord, who would stand a chance?” → means that, contrary to many of those ideas and off-center theologies that have St. Peter waiting with a grand “in or out” list at the pearly gates, there is no grand list of our sins in some massive book in the sky
        • We all make mistakes. We all hurt people in ways that are intentional and unintentional. Paul reminds us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And so we all cry out to God for forgiveness, and God responds with grace upon grace. Maybe that’s exactly why the psalmist follows such a difficult, sobering question – Who would stand a chance? – by a reassurance of God’s forgiveness … because we all need to hear it. We all need hope.
  • And there are plenty of other places that we encounter hope in this world. Unexpected places. → “God Moments” board in the hallway at LS Pres
    • Hope in unexpected places seems to be something that Jesus counted on – something that fed and supported his earthly ministry.
      • Pastor Barb Lindgren: “Jesus has a knack for transforming lives as he’s passing through to somewhere else.” → Many of Jesus’ most profound encounters happened “while he was on the way” to this place or that place.
        • E.g.s. – Zacchaeus[9], the woman healed by simply touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothing[10] → people who encountered hope when they least expected it
    • Do you want to hear something truly mind-blowing? Every day we have the chance to be someone else’s “unexpected place” to encounter hope. This is why we need to step up and claim our faith – to swallow our fears, our hesitations, our pride and have the courage and the strength to step up. The world is full of darkness, but as Christians – as those who find our hope in God’s word and forgiveness – we carry a special light that we need to have the courage to bear. You never know whose day you’re going to touch … whose life you’re going to change.
      • Play Newsboys song[11] → Doesn’t this song sound a lot like our psalm for today? It begins with a cry to God from the depths, a cry from someone who feels like he or she may have been forgotten by God – one who desperately wants to return to God’s presence. “Will you take me back again?” This is someone looking for hope but in all the wrong places.
        • The song drives home the point that hope is always available. God will never stop waiting for us – 24 hours a day … 7 days a week … while the TV screen flashes and the night becomes history. Even when we feel cut off from God, God remains our hope. We just have to recognize it … and that’s the hard part.
        • Now, I don’t know about you, but I hear a sense of regret in this song. It’s talking about life passing us by. But there’s also hope because in the next breath, it encourages us to figure out how to step up and shine Christ’s light in the dark and difficult corners of our lives before it’s too late.
    • Heb. passages encourages this, too
      • “Let us draw near with a genuine heart” = Gr. “let us draw near with a true heart, a dependable heart, a real heart” → These are the hearts that have been overwhelmed by anxiety and doubt. These are the same hearts that have been broken by pain and betrayal. These are the same hearts that flutter in fear at the thought of sharing our faith with someone new. But these are also the same hearts that we’re told have been sprinkled clean by God. These are the same hearts that experience the relief, comfort, joy, and reassurance of eternal hope. And these are the same hearts that should be bursting to express and share that hope with those around us.
        • Spelled out pretty clearly toward the end of the passage: And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.[12] → Spark one another to love and good deeds. Encourage one another to live into Christ’s example of transforming lives. Remind one another to express and share the hope that banishes all darkness.
  • With all the dark and difficult corners that we encounter today – in our own lives and in the live of those we know and love – how can we not step up? How can we not let the light of Christ shine in us and through us? How can we not share the source of our hope?
    • Think of how immobilizing it can be to be afraid of the dark.
      • People young and old alike = afraid of the dark because everything – even the tamest and most familiar things – look scarier and more menacing when bathed in shadows
    • We don’t want to struggle among the shadows, and because of the hope we find in God’s Word and forgiveness, we don’t have to. We do have the responsibility to share that hope with those who desperately need it. So step up. Don’t let the moment pass you by. Don’t let the night become history. Amen.

[1] Ps 130:5a-b.

[2] Ps 23:4.

[3] Jas 1:2-3.

[4] Matt 11:28 (NRSV).

[5] Heb 10:22-23.

[6] Heb 10:19-20, 22.

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1207.

[8] Ps 130:1, 3-4.

[9] Lk 19:5.

[10] Mt 9:20.

[11] Newsboys. “Entertaining Angels” from Step Up to the Microphone album, 1998.

[12] Heb 10:24-25.